Chain of consistency

Photo By David Robert

I have just learned that there is a hostile takeover happening right under our noses in the Biggest Little City. It’s happening at the intersection of McCarran Boulevard and South Virginia Street, and it ain’t pretty.

The business is restaurants, and the company trying to do the over-taking is a corporation called Brinker International. Lemme explain: At the corner of McCarran and South Virginia, there are three restaurants, two of which are only a couple of years old: Chili’s and the newbies, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and On the Border. They came in where there were already lots of chain restaurants nearby—Boston Market, Red Robin, Marie Callender’s and The Olive Garden—not to mention local stalwarts, such as Rickshaw’s.

Well, in this escalating restaurant war, there’s already been one casualty—Houlihan’s is now gone—which could be due to the fact that there’s some collusion going on. You see, Chili’s, Macaroni Grill and On the Border are all owned by the same company: Brinker International.

Kinda devious, eh?

One of the reasons Brinker got to be so big, with the word “international” in its name and everything, is that its restaurants have a successful formula: nice, yet artificial decor, good service and decent, no-risks food.

And that’s exactly what I found at On the Border.

I headed down to Brinker Row with Mike Price (who has a psychic sense on how to find a free meal; the last time he wanted to go to lunch was also when I was doing a review). It was noon, yet the place was less than half-full. We were seated, and a waitress immediately came and took our drink orders. We got iced tea, with Mike requesting so much lemon that he essentially wanted “lemonade with iced tea in it.”

She was back in a flash to take our orders, before Mike could even open the menu. The service was enthusiastic, that’s for sure.

I ordered the three-item combo ($7.99) with a crispy chicken taco, a chicken enchilada and a smoked chicken flauta. Mike chose the pollo cilantro ($8.49), which is described on the menu as “mesquite-grilled chicken topped with sweet cilantro and lime glaze.” I think Mike ordered it just because he likes saying “cilantro.” He also requested a side of tortillas, which set us back 75 cents, we learned once the bill came.

We passed the time by eating chips and salsa. The salsa was tasty—a tad too sweet for my tastes, but palatable—and the chips were huge. It is not possible to eat these chips without being tempted to engage in salsa double-dipping, which we learned from George Costanza and Seinfeld is a social no-no.

The decor at On the Border is what you would expect for a Mexican chain restaurant. It has a forced Southwestern sort of feel, while Americanized Latino pop music plays overhead. A sample song: Ricky Martin’s “Loaded.” But because this is a Mexican restaurant, it was the Spanish version of the song. At least it wasn’t Michael Bolton.

When the food arrived, Mike and I were both content. Mike dove right into his chicken, which came with beans and mixed vegetables. I, too, wasted no time crunching down on the taco. The flauta, cut in half, and the enchilada, covered in sour cream, soon followed the taco in being crunched.

We both pronounced the food to be “good.” It wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t great. It was good.

After all, Brinker got to be international by making food for the masses, being safe and not taking any culinary risks. Imagine what you’d expect from a chain restaurant taco, enchilada, flauta and chicken breast—and your mind will take you to On the Border.